I had not been to my family practitioner doctor in a while. For specific complaints, I had gone to specialists, and before various surgeries, I had had the equivalent of physicals so I had seen no need to go to the generalist. But I finally decided I should get on a more consistent health regimen and went to make an appointment with the doctor I had not seen for a couple years. I dialed his number and instead of the usual message I get from doctors—“please pay attention because the menu has changed”—I got the message, “Your phone call will be recorded. If you do not want to be recorded, hang up.” I don’t remember ever before hearing that my phone call to a doctor’s office would be recorded, and it was not the more usual, “For quality control purposes, your call may be recorded.” It was more ominous, and the message then gave a different phone number to call if I still wanted to proceed. I realized that the recorded announcement had never said that it was the doctor’s office, and I thought maybe I had dialed wrong or the number had changed.
I hung up and googled the doctor. The first listing stated that his office was permanently closed. For a moment, I thought that he had retired. I didn’t know how old he was, but he was not young. More than once, he mentioned how he had treated Abby Hoffman ,and then I saw the next entry. An FBI press release from a year ago. My doctor had just been sentenced to 20 months in prison.! A New Jersey medical lab had been giving kickbacks for unnecessarily-ordered medical tests. In fewer than three years, the doctor had received more than $100,000 in fraudulent dealings with medical.
My doctor was not alone. Thirty-eight people, including 26 doctors and 12 executives of the medical lab, had pleaded guilty as a result of the fraud. Looking for meaning in all of this, I thought of all the times that politicians have talked about fraud, and how often they concentrated on the actions of the classes with little power—welfare fraud, of course, and now unemployment insurance fraud—and how little about the actions of the powerful classes, such as doctors and corporate executives. But this narrative seemed a little forced under the circumstances. Doctors and corporate executives went to prison.
So then, even though I am convinced that I am not self-centered and could tell you all the reasons that I am not, I looked for something personal. My doctor, whom I had not seen for years, was in prison. Surely that was an omen. Did it mean that I should see doctors more often? Less often? That I should think about what might be fraudulent in my life? Others around me? So far, however, I have not found that personal meaning. Any suggestions?